Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Mysterious Inner Workings of Law and History Review

Now that the nation has avoided default (at least for the time being), I’d like to use my opportunity as a guest blogger to discuss Law and History Review (LHR). I’ve been editing the journal since 2004 and oversaw its move to Cambridge University Press and expansion to a quarterly. We publish approximately 1,100 pages per year, and our August issue is now available online and in print.

Today, I’d like to focus on the “in-house” review of manuscript submissions. As editor, it is my responsibility to read every submission to determine whether it is potentially a good fit for the journal. In a given year, this means that I evaluate approximately 70 new submissions. Like most editors, I try to compartmentalize my professional responsibilities and designate one morning or afternoon a week to evaluate new submissions.
As I read a manuscript, I focus on one overarching question: Is there a chance that this manuscript can become a publishable article in LHR? Answering this question is a challenge. On the one hand, I don’t want to waste the valuable time of four outside reviewers. The strength of LHR is the quality of our referees’ reports, which take time to prepare. On the other hand, I know how critically important the review process can be for scholars to make sense of their original research findings. Thus, I spend a great deal of time reading (and re-reading) the introduction, considering the source base, studying the footnotes, and thinking about the manuscript’s major contributions. Ultimately, I reject about 40 percent of submissions during the “in-house” stage.

What factors lead me to reject a manuscript submission? In the past, we received many multiple submissions because authors believed that LHR was a traditional law review. As a peer reviewed journal, we automatically reject all multiple submissions. We still occasionally receive law review articles as sole submissions (i.e., they include a table of contents, are 100+ pages, with more than 300 footnotes, and don’t follow the Chicago Manual of Style), which I reject because they are the wrong genre for us. I explain to these authors that there is a difference between using history to make legal arguments and the approach of our authors who use their original research findings to contribute to debates within the field of legal history. On occasion I have sent a manuscript like this out to reviewers because of its exceptional quality, but the reviewers rarely support publication. Instead, they recommend substantial revisions in order to transform a law review article into a LHR article. I now try to avoid putting reviewers in this position.

I also reject manuscripts whose major contributions lay outside of the field of legal history. In these cases, I encourage the author to submit his or her manuscript to a more appropriate journal. Yet editors can (and should) use their discretion to push the field into new territory. Accordingly, my definition of “the field of legal history” is quite broad. Next year, for example, readers will see a couple of articles in LHR that push the boundaries between past and present and history and political science.

On a final note, I should add that many authors who have once had a manuscript rejected either during the “in-house” stage or after receiving referees’ reports later published outstanding articles in LHR. Every manuscript is different, and every new submission to LHR is a fresh start for an author and for the editor.